This much you already know: As a marketer, you need to reach consumers across every channel, on all the devices they use, wherever they are. You need to make sure the messaging on every channel reflects the true core of the brand, and that each execution adheres to brand guidelines in look, feel, and tone. You need to provide a seamless omnichannel experience.
I'm not here to help you with any of that. Google "omnichannel" and you'll get lots of advice about how that experience should look and feel. Plus you'll get insight into the structural changes that need to happen to support the experience. For example:
- The supply chain restructuring required to allow Michael Kors stores to accept returns no matter where the item was originally purchased -- for example, at Macy's, or an online retailer.
- The organizational restructuring that allows Neiman Marcus Group to synchronize store, catalog, and online offerings, and to practically eliminate out-of-stocks by enabling in-store purchases to be fulfilled with online merchandise and vice versa.
- The technology restructuring, data analysis, and personalization that is taking Walmart from multichannel to frictionless omnichannel and boosting online results against Amazon.
You need to get all the brand standards and technical details right to deliver a consistent brand experience across channels. But let's talk about something even more important: Delivering a relevant experience in each channel, in each moment.
Dare to engage in the moment
Consistency is essential. But consistency for its own sake is an uninspired goal, leading only to predictable, even boring consumer experiences. Brand owners and marketers need to fight against sameness to relentlessly deliver relevance.
That means becoming comfortable with bringing different executions of the same idea to different touchpoints. On second thought, "comfortable" isn't the right word. Relevance requires bravery.
But then, there's a kind of bravery behind everything we do when we relate to one another as humans. We're emotional creatures -- not looking for consistent, rational connections, but rather for ever-new experiences of companionship. A laugh. A fresh perspective. Support in hard times and sharing in good times. All of that requires the bravery to open up and engage, to express one's full personality and presence in every situation.
For brands to assert their relevance in every encounter, there has to be the same kind of bravery.
Reveal your personality
Brands with a true personality enrich consumers' lives much like a vibrant human relationship does -- through reliable consistency, yes, but also through experiences that are always fresh, engaging, and in the moment.
Take a look at what L'Oreal is doing these days. Anywhere but in a brick-and-mortar store, shoppers can't directly see, hold, and try the beauty products they're considering. That represents a huge barrier to purchase. But rather than focus all its marketing efforts on the in-store channel, where most sales take place, L'Oreal has also made substantial investments in digital tools that reveal a completely different strategy and execution than you'll find in-store or in traditional advertising channels.
L'Oreal's brand sites are built with multiple, seamless pathways to purchase. Users can easily check stock and buy from their favorite online retailer (Target, CVS, Walmart, Amazon, and others), or they can use location services to find the nearest store that carries the product. Engaging features on the website -- such as personalized beauty recommendations and "look" videos -- always have a shoppable component. Users can purchase relevant products or request samples without visiting a separate site, saving time while staying focused on the L'Oreal experience.
"Makeup Genius" is a L'Oreal app for smartphones and tablets that allows users to sample nail polishes and makeup products in an augmented reality environment mapped to 64 facial points. L'Oreal calls it "the first ever virtual makeup tester." Users can "apply" makeup, and then watch as the app follows their movements to see how they look from any perspective. A library of looks created by makeup experts offers inspiration to try new combinations. Once users have settled on the perfect look, they can share it with their social networks.
Users can even scan products in-store to try them on. Imagine standing in the aisle of a store -- or in your best friend's apartment -- and easily experimenting with products and colors to find what you like best. And from the brand's point of view, imagine the opportunities for using the data acquired through the app. L'Oreal is partnering with retailers to marry browsing data from Makeup Genius with point-of-sale data from the retail counter to transform the shopping experience.
Make a scene
Another brand bravely creating relevant new touchpoints is Target. Consider the "Target Too" art exhibit that recently popped up in ?New York's Chelsea neighborhood -- a focal point of the art world, with hundreds of galleries. Target Too features 12 art installations incorporating Target products. For example: a seven-foot milk carton tipped over, spilling "milk" in the form of hundreds of white kitchen utensils, plates, saucers, bowls, and cups. Or a giant mural of smiling red lips made of more than 3,000 lip balm packages. Or the Target bulldog mascot, rendered in Legos.
The exhibit alone would be a great example of relevance tied to a specific place: A brand representation that fits perfectly in the artsy Chelsea neighborhood might seem out of place among the designer shops on Fifth Avenue. But there's also a digital element that makes the experience even more relevant to a younger, more connected audience than the stereotypical Target shopper -- a middle-aged, middle-income mom.
Visitors are encouraged to download an app built specifically for the Target Too installation, allowing them to interact with exhibits on the spot. For example, a video reveals the background story of the spilled "milk," with virtual neon cats knocking the carton over. The lip balm smile can be virtually animated by users making expressions into their own smartphones, and a lip balm selfie can be instantly printed on a T-shirt.
Many more interactive features encourage exploration of Target products in an artful context, and allow purchase of favorite combinations. Visitors can even influence the mood of the music that's playing on their gallery tour by voting on each track -- how's that for relevant?
Curate and connect
The whole notion of curation hinges on relevance. Look at the brands growing in this space: Graze, Birchbox and even retailers? who are modifying their assortment at the local level are doing an amazing job of delivering relevance. Social selling makes the curated experience even more relevant for each shopper, in each situation. Consider the "Buy" buttons on Facebook and Twitter, or Wanelo's "mall on your phone, curated by people just like you."
Curalate is a marketing and analytics company founded on the premise that consumers are increasingly communicating through pictures, not words. One of its offerings is a "Like2Buy" option for Instagram. It allows a retailer like Nordstrom to provide a socially connected and curated buying experience.
Users can "like" images on Instagram, then click "Like2Buy" to go directly to a page that replicates the Instagram experience, with tabs both for their "likes" and other featured Nordstrom products. From there, it's just one click to go to that product on Nordstrom's retail site. It's a seamless experience that maintains brand consistency while engaging shoppers in a journey of discovery that's uniquely their own -- dynamically reflecting their personal interests with each moment of interaction.
Being truly relevant in omnichannel means giving consumers the ability to choose whatever channels they want to interact with -- through the places and devices they choose -- and delivering a convenient experience that resonates with whatever is happening at that moment in their lives.
The complex hand-offs between channels need to be invisible to the shopper, and the content served needs to have continuity with the brand message -- even though the executions may look incredibly varied when laid out in a 360-degree agency presentation. This, by the way, is the only time humans will see all the elements of a campaign at the same time.
Because the goal isn't to deliver a static, predictable experience. The goal is to tap into the variety, surprise, and wonder of everyday life.
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